Since the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 this country has been in a constant state of warfare. During the Soviet-Afghan war the United States and the world’s eyes were on Afghanistan, but only to cause pain for the Soviet Union. After the Soviet withdrawal and the end of the Cold War the world forgot about Afghanistan. The various factions tried to form a government but began fighting amongst themselves and the country devolved into a civil war.
Then in 1994, Mullah Mohammed Omar and the Taliban rose out of the Afghan city of Kandahar. The Taliban swept into power as a pious determined band of religious students (Coll). Soon after the Taliban controlled all but the northern most part of Afghanistan, with all but the northern most part of the country which was controlled by the Northern Alliance. This redoubt against the Taliban led to seven more years of civil war which prevented any prosperous economic reconstruction. Then following Osama bin Laden being expelled from the Sudan, the beginnings of al-Qaeda moved to Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda then began assisting the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and also launching and planning attacks against the United States. On September 9th 2001 al-Qaeda assassinated Mohammed Shah Massoud the leader of the Northern Alliance (Coll). This attack was followed two days later by al-Qaeda’s attacks of 9/11. In October of 2001, the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies. While the Taliban and al-Qaeda were forced out of Afghanistan they were far from defeated.
After eight years of war the United States, NATO, and the elected Afghan government are still fighting an ever more violent insurgency in one of the least economically developed countries (LDC) in the world. This insurgency involves not only fighting the Taliban but also engaging in nation building, establishing good government and trying to build a stable economy.
Afghanistan's economy is recovering from decades of conflict. The economy has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 largely because of the infusion of international assistance, the recovery of the agricultural sector, and service sector growth. Real gross domestic product (GPD) growth exceeded 7% in 2008. Despite the progress of the past few years, Afghanistan is extremely poor, landlocked, and highly dependent on foreign aid, agriculture, and trade with neighboring countries (The World Fact Book Afghanistan) . Afghanistan is hampered by a lack of power as capacity due to its unskilled and largely uneducated workforce. There is also a severe shortage of infrastructure as years of war and poverty have destroyed or prevented the establishment of a strong road, water, and electrical network. To add to these problems Afghanistan also suffers from some severe environmental issues due to overuse of land and deforestation. Along with these issues, Afghanistan is also the world’s largest supplier of opium which is used to fund the Taliban insurgency.
Afghanistan’s literacy rate is 28.1%, 43.1% male female 12.6%, with the total average school life expectancy of only 8 years (The World Fact Book Afghanistan ). This deficiency in education is a hindrance to the development of Afghanistan’s over all power. While males are allowed more education, there continues to be resistance in allowing females to continue to receive an education. This resistance has even turned violent with acid being thrown on female students and recently gas attacks against girl’s schools (Maqbool and Amir).
The lack of infrastructure also keenly affects not only the counter insurgency effort but also hampers economic development and the Afghan’s government ability to control the country. Afghanistan only had 12,350 km of paved roads in the entire country, which constitute 29.3% of the entire road network of 42,150 km (The World Fact Book Afghanistan ). A micro study of the success of road building and its effects on local economies and counter insurgency can be made from the building of the Perch Road in the Kunar Province. The road began construction 2006 and was finished in March of 2008, prior to this there were no paved roads in this area (Kilcullen). By working with local leaders to hire labor and help provide security to the road building project, the Afghan’s government was able to involve local people and provided jobs to boost the economy. With the presence of this road network, the number of gas stations went from 1 to 7, with a hotel under construction. Farmers are able to sell surplus crops along the road side (Kilcullen). This helps stabilize the local economy and provides Afghans with an income that could help reduce the temptation of taking pay from the Taliban to attack the Afghan government and Coalition forces. Another benefit to the paved road and the security that is provided to local forces is that the, incidents of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has decreased dramatically. In the winter of 2007 during the construction of the road, 17 IEDs were turned in by locals or found by guards. When one IED did go off the population rushed to the scene to begin repairs on the road as they did not want to see it cut (Kilcullen). Another major infrastructure project was concluded in 2008. In early September, India’s envoy to Afghanistan announced the completion of a major new highway linking the towns of Delaram and Zaranj in Nimruz province. The road will provide a major infrastructure boost, as it connects Zaranj on the Iranian border to the Iranian port of Chahbahar. With Delaram lying on Afghanistan’s main ring road (which passes through cities such as Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul), this could improve the flow of goods to and from the land-locked country significantly. The new link is timely, coming at a point when Afghanistan’s reliance on shipping goods via Pakistan’s seaports looks increasingly risky amid growing instability and insecurity, especially in the border region between the two. The road will also improve Afghanistan’s leeway in negotiating trade issues with Pakistan (Innes-Ker and Walsh). The small case study of the Perch road and the newly constructed highway into Iran shows the benefits of improving infrastructure not only for the local citizens but the overall economy of Afghanistan. With the few export materials the Afghan’s have and their continued need for imports of food and raw materials, it is vital that significant improvement in the road network continue. If done properly building projects like this can reduce poverty and increase governance as local leaders and tribes are used to provide labor and security, not only providing jobs but a sense of ownership of the project.
Opium production is central to the Afghanistan economy and also to funding the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban banned nearly all poppy production in 2000-2001 but all this did was cause Afghan farmers to go into opium related debt. This forced them to replant the crop as soon as it was safe to do so. In the meantime, the ban weakened the Taliban's political standing. Certainly, opium production has soared since their overthrow, with this year's showing a 49% increase over 2005, and providing 92% of world supply. As a result, the economy is hopelessly hooked on heroin. "Opium GDP" is estimated at 27% of the total economy (ie, including drugs) and 36% of "licit GDP". The report argues that along with aid inflows, this is causing "Dutch disease", pushing up the exchange rate and other prices, making the non-opium economy uncompetitive. So opium has a huge effect on the rest of the economy. A corollary is that eradicating it would have a devastating impact unless accompanied by decades of development. A simulation of an interdiction campaign starting now, suggests that by 2010 real total GDP would have fallen by 10.7%, and "licit GDP" would not have grown at all (A big habit: Afghanistan's poppies). This raises the issue of curbing poppy production, is it beneficial to cut off a farmer’s ability to make money by forcing him to grow a less profitable but more productive crop such as corn or wheat? What is known for sure is there is no easy fix for this problem as it is a scourge, not only to the Afghan people but feeds an ongoing insurgency and floods the worlds markets with heroin. The insurgency is partly financed by sympathizers in Pakistan and the Middle East, but largely by the Western consumers of Afghanistan's drugs. Opium production has expanded hugely, especially in the Taliban's southern heartland, signaling a risible failure for the British-led attempt to end it. Last year's crop was worth $2.7 billion at export, or 52% of GDP. The opium harvest that ended last month has set new records. The United Nations says poppy planting increased by 20% this year. In Helmand, the biggest opium-producing province, the day rate for an opium harvester has been $25--twice last year's wage (A geographical expression in search of a state-Afghanistan). Clearly Afghanistan’s farmers have to be incented to move to crops that will help feed Afghani’s, it will take a long and well thought out program as well as security to see this take place. Government buying the poppies from the farmers is one short term solution but this is subject to corruption and will take a strong hand to manage. The long term fix is security. There is no way to stop all poppy production, but with incentives and other help in terms of irrigation projects, means of transporting crops to selling centers there maybe a chance of curbing the growth of poppies in Afghanistan. If there is not a successful policy in combating the drug trade, there will be no end to the insurgency and no chance for Afghanistan to stand up not only as a country but a state as well.
Afghanistan being a LDC and suffering through thirty years of constant warfare has a very tough road ahead to achieve economic stability. Poppies for heroin and opium products are the most important industry in Afghanistan (Innes-Ker and Walsh). This alone testifies to the weakness of Afghanistan’s economic and security situation. Afghanistan has a very long road to travel to develop any type of domestic power with its lack of education, poor literacy rates, infrastructure, and its difficulty in exporting the products to foreign markets. Recent meetings between Afghanistan and its donors have emphasized the provision of basic services, such as electricity and education. Donors will also try to channel more funds through the government, responding to concerns expressed by government officials that their insistence on maintaining control over funds is inefficient and undermines the government’s authority. In 2010 there is likely to be a growing emphasis on the need to place Afghanistan’s fiscal position on a more sustainable long-term path (Innes-Ker and Walsh). The current situation is that the international community will have to continue to provide both financial and security stability to Afghanistan. Without security there can be no hope for economic development and without economic development there will be little hope for security. It will be up to the international community to provide a bubble of money and assistance both economically and militarily that will allow the Afghan government to assert itself and bring its economy online. Without this Afghanistan and possibly its neighbors could suffer through another 30 years of warfare.
"A big habit: Afghanistan's poppies." The Economist 30 November 2006.
"A geographical expression in search of a state-Afghanistan." The Economist 8 July 2006.
Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to Septermber 10, 2001 . New York: Penguin Books, 2004.
Innes-Ker, Duncan and Gerard Walsh. "Country Report: Afghanistan." October 2008. Economist Intelligence Unit. 24 May 2009
Kilcullen, David. The Accidental Guerrilla. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Maqbool, Rafiq and Shah Amir. "Fear of gas attacks keeps Afghan Girls away from school ." 14 May 2009. AfghanNews.Net. 23 June 2009
"The World Fact Book Afghanistan ." 14 May 2009. Central Intelligence Agency. 22 May 2009